On the year-end episode of the video game TV show Good Game the presenters Bajo and particularly Hex raved about a game called ‘Valiant Hearts’. They considered the game to be a great way to learn about the events and experiences of World War I, while carrying some definite emotional impact. Having played the game myself recently I would say that they were spot on.
Hearts – The Great War’ is primarily a two-dimensional puzzle game, with some
simple action sequences, set mainly in France and Germany during World War I.
You alternate between four characters – with one helpful dog – though the
gameplay is fairly similar for each of them. The main two characters are Emile,
a soldier in the French army, and Freddie, an American volunteer, and you also
play as Karl, Emile’s German son in law, and Anna, a Belgian nurse. The puzzles
mostly involve lifting things, moving things, digging for things, and the like,
though the sequence in which you acquire things is important. As far as puzzles
go these are not as elegant as those in ‘Portal 2’, but they are generally
clever and enjoyable.
The game was
inspired by a series of letters written during the war, and these really
strengthen the story behind the game. For most of the people alive today,
including me, there is less connection to what people experienced during World
War I than World War II or even the Vietnam War. ANZAC Day in Australia, as
important as it is, is generally more about symbolism than in bringing out
those experiences (and at worst reduces into cliché). Though stylized, ‘Valiant
Hearts’ made me feel closer than I ever had to ‘experiencing’ the Great War,
making a concerted effort to capture the details of life during wartime.
Pop-ups provide further information about important battles and other events,
features of wartime such as trenches and barbed wire, and items that had
particular significance for the era. IGN reviewer Daniel Krupa somewhat
accurately, though disparagingly, referred
to these as ‘Encarta ’95-style footnotes’, and found them ‘too insistent and a
bit irritating’. Many commenters took him to task for this, and I agree
that their intrusion is fairly minimal; the player can skip all of these if
reviews of ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘The Wolf Among Us’ I suggested that they
could be thought of less
as games and more of as a new form of graphic storytelling. ‘Valiant Hearts’
too, in style and its emphasis on story, seems like a comic strip in which you
are a more active participant in the story-telling. It certainly uses the iconographic
techniques of comic strips, with pictures often substituting for spoken
language. However I don’t want to take the analogy too far, and suggest that this
is a new medium that sits outside the two categories. People would definitely
call it a game; in its use of ‘closure’
(the gaps between successive images) it is still a fair distance away from sequential art. I still
could see these types of games starting to substitute for comic books and
strips in the future though.
With my leaden gaming fingers I like these ‘one-button’
games, and unlike games where I fight for seemingly hours against tough bosses I
am only a peek at a ‘walkthrough’ away from being unstuck. There is about ten
hours of gameplay here, which is a good length for a game of this type. Regardless
I found myself immersed in this game from pretty much start to finish, and it
is a great way for anyone to discover more about this era of history.
P.S. That is my last post for 2014, having reached my goal of 120 posts for the year. See you in 2015!